Maybe you’ve seen or heard a conversation something like this:
“You see, son, when you get older and fall in love. And then…uh…you see…uh…if you fall in love enough…well, then uh…it happens that…uh…First you get married!…uh…that is real important…and uh…if you are married long enough and stay in love…not that your mom and I aren’t in love, you see…uh…well then…you see…uh…babies happen!…Do you get what I am talking about here, son?”
“Dad, are you trying to talk about getting pregnant and babies? We learned about that in school in fifth grade.”
“That’s right, son, that’s right. I knew that. I just wanted to make sure you understood. I am proud of you, son. Now let’s go get that ice cream I was promising. I’m sure glad we had that little chat…why…I can remember when I was young back on the farm when my dad…”
This is the general impression of parental sex education. Not too flattering, is it? But that “birds and bees” talk hasn’t improved much over the years. And it’s so easy to let the TV or movies do the talking for us…but that’s a big mistake! Parents are to be the primary sex educators of their children. There is no Plan B for those of us in God’s family.
Teaching values and godly character isn’t a one-time event. It is not the “big talk.” It is a lifestyle of modeling and mentoring. It starts at birth, when you hold your child for the first time and begin establishing an environment of love and trust.
As our kids grow, we work hard to understand them and meet their needs. We treat them as individuals. After all, no one knows our children like we do. So when the topic of sex comes up, we need to be prepared to be more than age-appropriate. We have to be person-appropriate. Fifth graders are different than teens. And a 13 year old is light years away from a 19 year old. We need to access all the grace and wisdom God has promised us to stay current and to help shape our children into responsible, self controlled young adults.
MENTORING SPELLED W.I.T.H.
Modeling and mentoring requires you to be with your kids. Let’s see what that looks like and what kinds of results you can expect. We’ll take our example from a couple of guys in Jerusalem around 34 A.D.
Peter and John caused a major stir when they healed the man at the temple. The temple leaders had them arrested when they took the opportunity to preach to the gathering crowd. After spending the night in jail, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, where they proceeded to blow the Jewish scholars away with their knowledge, courage and authority. Let’s look at it straight from Scripture.
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus! (Acts 4:5–15)
MENTORING. IT’S THE LATEST THING! OR IS IT?
Two thousand years ago, Jesus knew that courage, faith, discipline, diligence, prayerfulness and obedience are caught, not taught! He knew the disciples would face stiff challenges, so he wouldn’t settle for any training but the best. His plan was straightforward and simple. Follow me. Be with me. Pay attention! No seminars or power lunches, no distance learning environments or video conferencing for Jesus. His was a ministry of hanging around! Luke 8:1 notes, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him.” In Mark 3:7, “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.” Over and over to those who would listen he said, “Follow me.” Some listened and obeyed, most found excuses.
The disciples sat, studied and traveled with Jesus, sinners ate and fellowshiped with Jesus, crowds gathered with Jesus, Pharisees were afraid to be seen with Jesus. The mother of James and John wanted her two sons to be with Jesus in power in heaven. Demons were terrified to be found with Jesus, sinful women and desperate men found sanctuary with Jesus. Make no mistake; it was all about being with Jesus! Because when you are around a leader long enough, you start to think and act like that leader.
In the story from Acts 4, we can see that something about Peter has really changed. Not so long ago, he had denied the Lord three times in Jesus’ most desperate hour. Now we can almost hear Peter say to himself, “I will not let my Lord down today!” Jesus is the only reason for Peter’s newly found passion. He caught the character of Christ. Jesus’ spiritual strength, courage and resolve rubbed off. There’s a definite Christ likeness in the Peter who declared God’s truth before the Sanhedrin.
This time Peter and John did not run. Standing before the court of Jewish scholars, they felt no shame in being common fishermen from Galilee. They were bold. And confident—so much so that the council of leaders commented about it. The council members must have been thinking: “We are the scholars. We are the ones who went to temple and studied with the Rabbi. Yet they’ve quoted the Scriptures and it is a more reasonable interpretation than we have ever given. Why are they not afraid to speak about the things of God in our presence? Where did they get their power? Their confidence?”
The short answer: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
What was their conclusion? “They realized they had been with Jesus.”
This is the greatest compliment that could ever be paid. If our goal is to teach the truth to our children, the truths about God’s design for love, intimacy and sexual health, it’s likely to be our “modeling,” not our “mouthing,” that gets the job done. Jesus understood this from the beginning; mentoring isn’t a program or a curriculum. Mentoring is spelled W.I.T.H!
Early in our ministry, my family moved from Oregon to northern New Jersey, just 30 miles from New York City. It was a missionary move as real as moving overseas. This was a culture shock! People in Jersey ate different things, spoke faster and interrupted more, laughed more quietly, dressed more formally and drove a car…well…with more intensity.
So what happened? Sorry to say they didn’t become like me. I ate ziti, learned to talk fast and interrupt more, laugh more quietly, wear a tie and drive like a maniac! I took on the character of those I was with. I took on the values of my community. Some said I even had a bit of a New Jersey accent. Nah!
Most of our parents spoke to us very little about sex, love and relationships. It was a rare mom or dad of the 1950s and 1960s who braved this subject matter with their growing children. Our American culture was still very closed about sexuality.
The culture of sexuality exploded during the latter years of the Vietnam War, and the sexual revolution was born. But this revolution almost seems mild compared to our sexually saturated culture of today. A child or teen can hardly get out of bed without being bombarded with sexual messages. The message begins the moment the alarm clock comes on with music. There are roadside billboards on the way to school. Hallway chatter deals with subjects we cannot fathom. Recess can become a competition to win boyfriends and girlfriends even in third and fourth grades. Then the television goes on after school with sexual saturation on even the most family-friendly sitcoms. Turning on the computer and going into e-mail is almost always a battleground with pornography coming to our children without any effort on their part to find it. The enemy has brought the war zone into our very homes. We try to shelter our kids from harmful lies about sexuality, but it’s a never-ending battle.
For this very reason, human sexuality is one of the most important topics to discuss in our Christian families. Our children must know the truth that God has given us in the Bible, and they must know the truth about sex, love and relationships. Sex is one of the main topics on kids’ minds.
We want to teach our kids about God’s precious gift of sexuality, but how and when do we start?
You’ve already started, even though you may not be aware of it. When children are very young they are keen observers. They have been observing you and your sexual characteristics since they were small.
Did they ever ask you why Mommy looks different than Daddy? When children are young they are not afraid to ask questions. In fact, on some days it seems as though all they do is ask questions! You have also been teaching loving relationships by how you love your spouse, your family members and neighbors. So your children know a lot about love and relationships and physical differences before they ever venture out into the school world.
But what do we do when kids ask embarrassing questions? Most of us have heard the story of the little four year old who asked his dad about where he came from. The dad is thinking, “I can’t believe this question is already here; he’s only four.” So clears his throat and twitches, then begins a detailed explanation of the anatomy and physiology of the reproductive system. He proceeds with an excellent description of sexual intercourse and the fertilization process. But after he finishes up the best explanation of labor and delivery that any dad has ever given to a four-year-old son, the little boy shyly asks his question again. “Daddy, I don’t understand. What hospital did I get borned in?”
One of the best ways to begin to talk about the special nature of being male and female is to do it naturally as a day unfolds. Every child is different in what they are curious about at what age. Some children will be natural talkers almost from the time they are born.
They will ask any question that comes to mind and be perfectly comfortable talking with Mom or Dad about the answer. Some children will never ask a question and be visibly uncomfortable when you bring up any personal subject. And so, as in all areas of parenting, we develop strategies that are different with each child. The only people who think that the same formula works with every child are people who do not have children! Don’t think of what’s “age-appropriate.”
Instead, be person-centered. Think, “How can I best answer this individual child’s question?”
There is a general rule that as children grow, the sophistication of your answers needs to grow. When three year olds ask, “Daddy, why do boys have a penis and girls don’t?” a simple explanation, “That’s the way God made us” is usually sufficient to make the child smile and run away and play. That’s all the information the child needs. If a 13-yearold daughter asks the same question, she may be seeking specific information about the reproductive system. She may need to be taught the exact functions of a penis. It’s likely that she’s heard a lot of information at school and feels that she’s the only one who doesn’t really know what’s going on. That lack of knowledge makes a young teen feel vulnerable and very uncomfortable.
A great time to talk to kids about sexuality is when they are in the gap—young enough to ask honest and sometimes embarrassing questions, but at the same time mature enough to begin to understand relationships. Fifth grade is the gap year for many kids. Fifth graders are awesome to work with and usually awesome to parent. This is the age for parents to take advantage of this new maturity, because in one to two years these open, honest children will be middle-schoolers. And that usually means they will not feel as open to ask the difficult questions of their parents, but will seek information elsewhere instead.
So parents—take action now! In fifth grade, sex is a frequent topic of conversation. This is the time when most kids need to know the true meaning of the word “sex.”
One word of caution; be aware that there are many meanings of the word “sex” in today’s preteen and teen culture. When most of today’s parents grew up, sex meant vaginal sexual intercourse. Sex has many meanings today to children of different ages. It is not unusual to have very young children use the term “sex” for holding hands. Older children and teenagers often believe that oral sex is not “sex,” but use slang words such as “blow jobs” to describe this activity. They often talk openly about mutual masturbation calling it “hand jobs.” Some teens see anal sex as a way to have sex without the fear of becoming pregnant. When you and your teen or pre-teen talk about sex, make sure you’re speaking and understanding the same language.
Teens and pre-teens today need to know the physical and emotional aspects of sexual intercourse. But they also need to understand that to honor God with their bodies means more than just avoiding vaginal intercourse. It means embracing purity across the whole gamut of sexual behaviors.
To equip you to speak about sexuality with your kids, we’ve included a practical guide at the end of this chapter. It suggests topics you might cover with kids of various ages, along with diagrams and a basic explanation of the reproductive systems.
WHAT ABOUT TEENAGERS?
Only a parent can determine how much information to give to a child and at what age. It is important, however, to be realistic about how much your kids have been exposed to sexual messages. For parents of teens, we recommend a field trip! All parents should visit their teen’s high school early in their freshman year and stay for at least two passing periods. This experience will open your eyes to just how far from your own high school years this generation is regarding sexual behavior. And you may ask, “How is this relevant? After all, this is a public environment, so how is this going to tell me anything about private sexual behavior?” Unless you’re visiting a private Christian high school, what you see on your field trip will shock you. Behavior that was relegated to private places and serious relationships when we were teens is now casual and out in the open. And the behaviors are both heterosexual and homosexual in nature.
When parents witness these behaviors on their high school field trip, they assume that kids aren’t listening to their parents anymore. Even the federal government thought that was true! Then they started to receive the results from the most thorough and expensive study of high school students ever attempted in the U.S. The ADD Health Study was released in 1997. It shows that the most important reason teens do not have sex is because their parents do not approve. Teens are listening! So talk with your teens about your values and morals on the subject of sex outside of marriage. They listen and they act accordingly!
You’ll find it much easier to talk with teenagers about sex if you wait for teachable moments rather than sitting down to have “the big talk.” Remember, these young people are emerging adults. They need to be treated with respect. Watching a television program or movie together will create opportunities to point out lies and truth. High speed conversations—traveling 65 MPH down the highway—assure that your preteen will stay (literally) with the conversation. And talking in sound bytes rather than long lectures will help both you and your teen feel more comfortable. Make sure your young adult knows that you’re available to talk any time.
Do you think your teenager knows all about the anatomy and physiology of the reproductive system? Sure, there’s fifth grade puberty class, and abundant talk and speculation in the halls. But even if you’ve covered this ground yourself, it’s a good idea to do a check to see how much has sunk in. Many kids in high school and college lack a basic understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the male and female reproductive systems. Getting those facts straight is a great place to start. Here are a few other topics you might cover during a series of conversations that may last months or years.
In later chapters, you’ll find detailed help in deciding how you want to approach these subjects with your teenager.
How would you describe a teachable moment?
When do teachable moments occur with your child?
What topics do you think are most on your teenager’s mind?
One common complaint from teens is judgment from their parents. They often say that when they ask their parents a question about sex, parents automatically assume that they are sexually active.
Some teens even say that their parents immediately accuse them of having sex and begin to watch everything they do. Or their parents begin to put unrealistic restrictions on their social life. These barriers to communication are very dangerous. Avoid them! Discipline yourself to listen without jumping to conclusions or overreacting. Do whatever you can to encourage open communication. Honest discussions allow you to guide your teenager in God’s truth. Accept the fact that these discussions will involve some discomfort. That’s normal and to be expected.
WHAT IF MY TEEN IS HAVING SEX?
If you learn that your teen has had sex or is engaging in unsatisfactory behavior according to your family values, talk to your teen with your spouse present. Make this a private conversation with only you as parents and your teenager. Never confront your teen in front of siblings or guests in your home. Treat your teen with dignity and love, but confront directly. Ask direct questions. “Are you having sex?” “How long have you been having sex?” If your daughter is having sex, ask if she has had a pregnancy test. If your son is having sex, ask if his girlfriend has had a pregnancy test. Ask if they have been checked for STDs. Then take whatever action you and your spouse believe is appropriate for your family.
Believe it or not, many teens are relieved when their parents discover their sexual activity. Many teens do not want to be sexually active and are coerced or manipulated into such behavior. You may have an initially angry teen on your hands but, in time, he or she will experience great relief to be out of the cycle of guilt, shame and lying. Yes, you can talk about sex with your kids! And they will listen.
Decide to do it.